Editorials ~ Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma Valley Sun


With a wink and a nod

Posted on January 3, 2024 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The City of Sonoma recently adopted a new policy requiring the disclosure of Ex Parte communications with “interested parties” who have development applications pending before the city. In other words, when council members or commissioners get privately lobbied by applicants, they must publicly report it. 

The idea behind the new policy is simple; since the public’s business should be conducted in public, and because private meetings between applicant lobbyists and public officials can color decisions outside of public view, such meetings should be disclosed. Members of the City Council and Planning Commission must now report such conversations when an agenda item pertaining to an application is taken up at a public meeting. The meeting date, the names of the participants, as well as an overview of what was discussed must be provided. 

Elected and appointed officials are under no obligation to meet privately with parties that have active applications before the city; it’s a voluntary decision, but now such meetings must be publicly disclosed. Kudos; this new policy feels proper, and has been a long time coming.

Communication between people includes more than just using words. Considerable non-verbal communication takes place when people meet; subtle and not-so-subtle signs of agreement and dispute are displayed. You can call this type of non-verbal communication “winkin’, blinkin’, and nod,” the sorts of facial expressions and body-language that conveys just as much as what’s said in words, and sometimes much more. 

In this way, applicants and their representatives gain insights into the inclinations and pre-dispositions of decision-makers, allowing them to tailor the style and content of their final applications to suit their intended outcomes. While no verbal agreements might be made in private meetings, reactions aplenty get communicated between parties.

“Wynken, Blynken and Nod” is a poem for kids written in 1889. In it, children are taken for a magical ride on a boat. In our version of “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod” interested parties – lobbyists and applicants – try to treat council members and planning commissioners like children and take them for a ride, too. 

What magical stories get spun in private meetings have been unknown, until now. While the disclosure policy is a welcome change, we believe private meetings between applicants and decision-makes shouldn’t happen at all. 

The heart of Brown Act regulations is about ensuring that the public’s business is done in full view of the public. The law limits the use of private conversations between decision-makers on a public body so that agreements are not made in secret. It also prohibits serial meetings, in which an interested party conveys information to council or commission members about the opinions of other council or commission members with whom they have met. 

The occurrence of undisclosed private lobbying of decision makers has been a gaping regulatory loophole, which the new policy has finally closed. But, it’s a small step in reducing possible corruption.

Private meetings between decision makers and applicants or representatives are just plain wrong. Application decisions, whether before the City Council or the Planning Commission, should take place in public, period. The potential for favoritism and special deals is too great for development decisions to be decided with a wink and a nod beforehand. 

One thought on “With a wink and a nod

  1. Who is the writer. I’m sorry if I missed it. This is good stuff. This is the kind of information that really helps the community. The Brown Act is extremely important, but often actively circumvented or ignored by politicians with an “ends justifies the means” authoritarian complex. Kudos to this writer and watchdogs who work to keep public servants what they are voted to be.

    On another note, I read recently something that was very disturbing about the nature of county politics. Did you know that an incumbent Supervisor has not been beaten once since 1980 in Sonoma county? This is with one exception of our current chair Coursey “defeated” his once-romantic-partner Shirley Zane. Can you believe that the voting systems are legit and trustworthy in this county? It sure seems rigged doesn’t it? Are the supervisors celebrities with life appointments like Supreme Court justices? It sure seems like they think they are.

    Did anyone hear about the buzz that Jame Gore is planning a senate run in 2024? Will they discuss the lawsuit against his wife for racism and racist hiring practices?

    We need younger leadership with interest in building a better future rather than grifting for decades off of Sonoma citizens and businesses.

Comments are closed.

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA